Why are Digital Marketers in India uneasy?

India has no concrete spam law nor a clear data privacy law. Email phishing and cyber fraud cases are rising. Here are a few news articles in the last few months on email scams in India:

December 2011: India is amongst the top destinations in the world where SPAM originates. AFP reported: Spammers propel India to junk-mail top spot.

January 2012 BBC reported: ‘Spam capital’ India arrests six in phishing probe.

April 2012 BBC reports: Spam – India leads world in junk emails.

I read 3 articles the last 3 weeks, in main stream media that makes the digital marketer in me uneasy. If you are a digital marketer, read the signs.

Raghu Raman in his article “Shaping opinion via spam” in the Mint says, “India needs a robust cyber defence strategy to stop this new ‘weapon of mass destruction’.”



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Wednesday 18th January 2012 will go down in history as the day Wikipedia and many other websites’ pages went black intentionally to protest against two bills in the USA, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA).

Wikipedia says that be bills are problematic because:

  • Among other serious problems in the current draft of the bills, the requirement exists for US-based sites to actively police links to purported infringing sites.
  • These kinds of self-policing activities are non-sustainable for large, global sites – including ones like Wikipedia.
  • The legislative language is ambiguous and overly broad, even though it touches on protected speech.
  • Congress says it’s trying to protect the rights of copyright owners, but the “cure” that SOPA and PIPA represent is worse than the disease.”

Wikipedia was launched in 2001 as a free encyclopedia edited by thousands of volunteers across the world. It is one of the sites with most traffic on the Internet. If they were to police links, we would not get the amount of information we do today.

This reminds me of my favorite poem By Rabindranath Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

Ironically SOPA and PIPA are actually well intentioned causes. They are intended to protect the rights and freedom of creators of content, the copyright owners.  But the larger question is how are we to control the dissemination of information? Technology allows us freedom that was not available to us previously. Who will police this deluge of information and in what manner? Is it even possible to police such large content? At what point do we need self-regulation vs government threat?

India is also asking websites to police the content. In December 2010, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal asked social websites like Google and Facebook to ensure that uploading of derogatory material online is stopped. Sibal has said that the content posted on some of the sites was so offensive that it would hurt the religious sentiments of a large section of communities in the country. In that sense Kapil Sibal is being called the human SOPA of India, but SOPA and SIBAL stand for different things.

SOPA wants to protect the rights of content creators but by telling everyone to keep a watch on every link. Sibal on the other hand wants to impose his diktat on what should be our freedom of speech.

Everyone has the freedom voice their concern, debate on what someone said, including Mr. Vinay Rai who has gone to the courts alleging criminal negligence by Google, Facebook and other companies for not removing objectionable material from their sites. Read about him here.

We are dangerously close to losing our sensibilities as to how hurt we should be if someone writes inflammatory content. When should your freedom to get offended subdue my freedom of speech? When should my endeavor to stop copyright violation become my responsibility that will be a punishable offense?

These are very human questions and not as much legal. There will be courts and laws to guide but they will not settle the disputes. This must emerge as an issue that gets resolved sensibly by a mature society. Without such sensibility all Internet will be just illegal content full of venom and all of us will be up in arms against each other.

A healthy self-regulation like that adopted by the Advertisement Industry is the need of the hour.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has adopted a Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising. It is a commitment to honest advertising and to fair competition in the market-place. It stands for the protection of the legitimate interests of consumers and all concerned with advertising – advertisers, media, advertising agencies and others who help in the creation or placement of advertisements.

This is something the SMS industry in India has failed to do and has done too little too late. I recently changed my mobile operator and my number. Even before I could share my new number with my friends and family I was inundated with spam SMSes. The Do-not-Disturb registry kicked in only after 7 days and till then I continued to receive Spam. How is that remotely sensible?

Is it any wonder that SMS as a channel in all probability will show signs of slowdown?

I am a digital marketer and know the power of email marketing. However I know how bad everyone thinks email marketing is. I work with the team at www.juvlon.com and we have been making several attempts to bring the big email marketers together for a common cause – to self regulate and wage war on SPAM.

India has no SPAM laws. A report published recently cited India amongst the top destinations in the world where SPAM originates. (Read AFP: Spammers propel India to junk-mail top spot ). The situation may get worse before it improves. There are “email lists” up for sale everywhere, the same list are sold by agencies to multiple clients. I have heard stories of harassed customers receiving many emails on the same day from different companies. His name was perhaps on such list which was sold over and over to many companies.

Email is not invasive. At least not as much as SMS is. Plus Email providers sort out the junk email cleverly so the average reader does not feel the impact of the problem. When someone like Kapil Sibal becomes a victim of some clever phishing scam or becomes fed up with incessant emails, Marketers might suddenly find themselves scrambling for cover. This has severe implications for legitimate email marketing service providers and Email Marketers. It won’t be long before a DND like situation emerges in the Email Industry and the government turns around and puts demands that may not be well thought out on marketers as well as service providers.

Sure, we will find ways to delay and muddle any anti-spam laws, but prevention is better than cure.

So be it SOPA SMS or SPAM the answer to a sensible system of policing is to have laws that give overall guidelines and are supported by self-regulation by the industry leaders.

This post was published on Pluggd.in

So you thought Email was dead? About $25 Million funding for apps around email in 2011. Yes Email.

I have been writing about Email Marketing on  this blog for a while, but this post is not about Email Marketing. I read a post about how a VC fund is investing in applications around Email, particularly Google Marketplace. That got me thinking of all the applications I have been following that are around Email.

Email is far from being dead. The simple and humble email is the most ubiquitous web application on the Internet. Here are some applications around Email that are interesting to watch:

Yesware is an Email for sales people. The application is available for Gmail and smart phones and provides email analytics, customizable templates and CRM integration. They secured $1M in funding in September 2011.

Attachments.me overcomes Gmail’s shortcomings in attachment search. Attachments.me allows you to search by file type, email address, or tag. In March 2011 they received a seed funding of $500K.

Spanning is not strictly an email related app, but it’s a business-class, cloud-to-cloud backup for Google Apps. In April 2011 they reported securing Series A funding of $2M.

Perkville is a loyalty card solution without any plastic card or any phone app. Your email address is your loyalty card. Neat, eh? The company’s profile on CrunchBase mentions a seed funding of $500K in Jan 2011.

Instead of constantly checking your inbox for important messages, AwayFind lets you configure when and how to alert you of urgent emails, SMS, phone calls or smartphone apps running on the iPhone or Android devices. Awayfind reported getting $800K funding in October 2011.

ShortMail – It’s like Twitter for email. It forces you to cut down your email to 500 characters. They secured $750K Series A funding in July 2011.

FanBridge is a Fan relationship management service. They had secured about $2M in funding in Jan 2011. FanBridge, helps bands, artists, sports teams, and even small businesses and brands manage their fan base through opt-in emails and sophisticated analytics. It manages more than 120 million fans via email alone.

ActivePath has developed a “patent pending” technology that allows Banks to send out emails such that readers can instantly take action on the email – transact immediately via email itself. ActivePath secured Series B funding of $10M in September 2011.

Rapportive shows you everything about your contacts right inside your Gmail inbox and includes information from sources like LinkedIn, Skype etc. I find this quite a useful add-on to Gmail. Last year they received $1M in seed funding. Gmail has introduced its own People widget in May 2011.

CloudMagic has built a browser extension that results in an extra search box in your Gmail interface that allows you to rapidly search for anything in your inbox, with results updating as you type and the ability to preview messages from a thread in a tab or open entire conversations with a single click.

LiveIntent helps sell and buy email ad inventory. They secured $8M in series B funding in September 2011.

There are a lot more interesting apps around email marketing, Email and CRM integrations, and browser extensions and so on.

Email, has still got its mojo.

Source: TechCrunch

Published on pluggd.in

Business Enabling Tools

December is the time when you say “this year is over already!” and then make plans for your New Year resolutions. I have made 3 very important resolutions for the New Year and am waiting patiently for January 1. I can’t start working on them today. They just have to be started on January 1st you know. I am like that only.

Looking back on the year, that’s over already, I feel happy that I have managed to do a lot of new things at the place I work. In fact, the general mood of the eCommerce Industry in India is upbeat. There is a whole legion of small to medium business online that are using “Business Enabling Tools” to keep pace with their growth. What is more interesting is most of these New Business Enablers are either free or at a very low-cost for basic business operations to function.

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10 Awesome Reasons for Email Marketing in India

Email Marketing in IndiaNote from me : “It’s been one year since I began ContactART – this blog about Email Marketing. One year has gone by so quickly! I feel happy to have reached this milestone. Thank you readers for keeping my enthusiasm up. You rock.”

I was was at the Franchise India Conference held on 21st and 22nd May 2011 talking about (what else?) 10 Awesome Reasons for Email Marketing. It was amazing to see the energy at the event. I saw and met many aspirants who want to become entrepreneurs and start a Franchise business. One of the speakers in the conference mentioned what everyone was feeling, that when you see the presentation from companies, their expansion plans and the eager entrepreneurs, you feel that this is a great time of growth for India.

I made a small presentation to the energetic crowd on why digital media is important for small and medium enterprises and why Email is such an awesome channel.

Here is a copy of that presentation.

India’s First Email Trends Report

Email Marketing in India just became a lot more exciting.

Unlike in markets like North America, there is very little data available about the Open and Click rates for India. That has changed with Juvlon publishing India’s first  quarterly “Email Trends Report”.

I am very happy to be a part of the team that has made this report possible. I work with the (amazing) Juvlon team and after a lot of data crunching and  drama (our hosting provider took down our webserver without notice – @bluehost #fail!)  we finally released the report today. Yay!

India’s First – “Email Trends Report” gives the average bounce, open and click rates for the Retail, Education and Finance Sectors.

Briefly, Retail  industry saw an email-open-rate of 12.93%. Finance performed lower with 11.92% opens and education did better with a 14.74% open-rate. Email-open-rate is the percentage of emails opened as against those sent. Click-to-open rates garnered 15.12%, 7.43% and 14.74% for retail, finance and education sectors respectively. Click-to-open rate is the percentage of clicks from within emails as against those opened. More details and conclusive analysis are available in the report.

This report is available as a free download from the www.juvlon.com website.

Please click here to get your free report:  http://bit.ly/india-trends

Email Marketing in India vs Shahrukh Khan

Coming back to India after a few years gave me a different perspective on a few things. Something that stood out most,  was the cacophony in the background noise, especially in media and advertising.  Suddenly the streets seem full of hoardings, buildings are covered in posters of movies that are about to be released, shopping malls have gigantic posters of celebrities endorsing watches, shops are full of banner displays, radio stations play advertisements incessantly, every reporter on TV channels is almost shouting and no one watches the shows I used to watch; there are just far too many of them.  Newspapers are covered from top to bottom with ads. My twitter stream too, is almost loud.

Surely India was the same two years back? But for me it seems that I have stepped into a strange psychedelic tandav, a madness of media and advertising from some freakish Phillip K Dick story. The messages that we marketers work hard to get across, are getting diluted in this cacophony. Read the rest of this entry »